Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sterling Vineyards 2003 Napa Valley Merlot

In my college days I broke into restaurant work as a “pearl diver” – a nice way of describing a dishwasher. Those mysterious objects lurking in the bottom of the steel double-sinks were hardly precious gems, however.

Occasionally I like to dive for “pearls” in my wine cellar on a mission of discovery. Perhaps I will find an unknown treasure.

Such was the case the other evening when I decided it was time to uncork the 2003 Sterling Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot. I’ve always considered Sterling a very dependable brand. If they have an upper tier of wines, I’m not familiar with it – but their lower and middle level wines deliver some great values.

Cellar Tracker has a very handy “readiness to drink” report and this dusty bottle of Sterling Merlot was right at the top. This wine was well outside the suggested drinking window, which topped out in 2008.

I opened the bottle and the cork was intact with the bottom nice and moist. A crumbling cork or one covered with sticky goo might indicate that the seal was bad.

The optics on the wine weren’t as comforting. The wine was reddish purple in the glass with brownish edges. Swirling released some questionable odor to my sniffer. Fruit aroma was weak at best and was mostly concealed by an astringent nail polish remover smell.

On that evening’s Amazing Race episode the contestants had to eat cobra. I certainly wasn’t going to be timid about tasting what was shaping up to be a very dubious vino.

The body on the wine was very thin with the barest traces of red fruit flavor. Bitterness puckered my mouth as I searched for redeeming value.

In 2005 this wine rocked with juicy flavors of black cherry and nutmeg, but it became feeble and flavorless in its old age. Sterling’s 2003 Merlot has now departed my wine rack, but has left an encoded message for future ages: People of future Earth – don’t expect an inexpensive bottle of Merlot to age for a decade!

Like my earliest pearl diving adventures, this one ended with liquid going down the drain…
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